- Train muscle chains instead of isolated movements on machines.
- Vary your training and challenge your body with new exercises.
- The least fun you can have is often the exercise you need the most.
- Use point 4 sparingly so you don’t lose the fun in your workout.
- High intensity with little/no breaks will result in compact and intense training sessions between 20-40 minutes.
- Listen to your body during training. There are days when nothing goes right. Don’t skip training but train with less intensity.
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Strong when you need to beThere is probably no sport in the world that doesn’t benefit from strength training. More muscles (or bigger muscles) not only result in more strength but also more stability and smaller risks of injury. Thus, it is almost always beenficial when hobby athletes go to the gym in addition to playing their “main sports”. However, when training for a specific sport it is imperative to consider that muscles never really work in an isolated fashion. They are always a part of a bigger muscle group that works as a chain when you play your sport. That is the basic principle of Functional Training.
Of slings and polesThe aeroSling Suspension Trainer is the perfect partner for almost any sport because it offers an endless number of exercises and forces you to use several muscle groups at the same time in any one of these exercises. Even a seemingly “simple” Bizeps Curl challenges the shoulders and core to keep yourself in a stable position during the exercise. Training with the aeroSling, therefore, offers a great transfer into other sports and our customers at PoleRoom have realized this as well. PoleRoom has dedicated itself to Pole Fitness and they have recently started offering aeroSling courses to their members. Training with a suspension trainer offers great benefits for pole fitness enthusiasts because the workouts incorporate a great focus on the core while training the other sport-specific muscle groups. This is a big difference to “normal” gym training where most people sit on machines or benches when the are training. Sitting is something that couldn’t be further from the center of pole fitness.
What do you train for?Pole fitness is a relatively “new” kind of fitness program that isn’t found in every gym, yet. But Fuctional Training, as mentioned before, can be a great addition to any sport. You just have to ask yourself: Do I want to get better in the sport that I love to play? If the answer is yes, then you shouldn’t rely on playing the sport itself in order to become better at it. Obviously, there are motor skills and cognitive skills that can primarily improve when you play the sport. But sport doesn’t start and end with these skills and it demands a certain level of fitness. And in order to improve this fitness Functional Training offers optimal tools and solutions. Even when you just train to become generally fitter with no specific sport in mind, Functional Training should be your first choice anyways. At the start of your “athletic endeavour” stands one question: What am I training for?
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The fundamental pillars for life long training…First of all, we have to say that nearly every from of training, every concept, and every exercise has its justification at some point. There is not the one best training plan and recipe to success that fits everybody! Your training has to be tailored to your individual needs and demands. It has to take into consideration where you come from, where you stand, physically and mentally, and it has to be effective. Thus, you have to find the form of training that makes sense for you, not for others. So what do you have to look out for?
Your training should be funEven the most effective exercises and the ‘6 weeks beach body’ program are pointless if you don’t have fun during training. If you have to pull yourself together every time in order to do the daily workout routine you will become exhausted. Even though it might be labelled as functional training there is no sense in torturing yourself every single time. This will simply force you to quit at some point and drag you down. Find out what’s the most fun for you: is it kettlebell training or do you prefer getting into beast mode with med balls? Are you getting onto the calisthenics hype train or do you prefer working with free weights? In the end, everything goes as long as it’s fun because the best workout is still the workout you actually do.
Your training should get you to your goalsThere is nothing more frustrating than training regularly for weeks and months and then realizing that you are not making any progress. This should bring you to the point where you question your training method and whether it is the right one for you. Are there progressions in your workouts? Do single exercises build on the progress you made in other exercises? Only you can find out. Test yourself in regular intervals with strength and mobility tests. For sometimes you just have to visualize the progress you have made to realize how much you have actually accomplished. If you should learn, however, that your progress isn’t as great as desired you should get back to the drawing board.
Your training shouldn’t be too elaborateThe third item in this list is important to keep you motivated: sure, you should implement your workouts in your daily/weekly routine to make it an inherent part of your life. If you have to put too much effort into simply making it to training, though, or getting the training that your plan demands, it will ultimately be too tough to follow the routine. Functional training is a great way of training because you don’t need treadmills, big training machines that focus on one particular muscle, and a whole array of dumbbells and barbells with weight plates. You can just do it wherever you are and it is very flexible. It gives you many options when it comes to time and place. You don’t need to take a 20 minute drive to your gym where you also may have to wait in line to use the machines and then get stuck in rush hour on your way back home. Instead, you can easily train your whole body with just a sling trainer, maybe a kettlebell, and some resistance bands in your own backyard. Keep the threshold of access to a full and effective workout as low as possible and you will not have to muster up so much energy each time just to get to training.
What are your thoughts on this?Get functional, your Fabien!
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link
„Many training and conditioning concepts put their emphasis on maximizing the strengths, it is much more reasonable, however, to approach the weaknesses and work on problem areas. Sooner or later the ignored weaknesses will surface in everyday life, training or competition, thus, neglecting the weaknesses is not a good idea in the long “ (Cook, 2011, S.16)Appropriate movement patterns form the basis in Functional Training. But Functional Training is much more than just quality of movement. Following Gray Cook’s motto ‘first move well, then move more’ quantity is not missed out on. But what kind of quantity should be trained? I once had the pleasure to listen to a lecture with the topic ‘training differences between top athletes and average athletes’. In this lecture, the speaker stated that both types of athletes train according to the principle 80% to 20%. While the top athlete spends about 80% of his/her training time to improve his/her weaknesses and only about 20% on his/her strengths, the average athlete does the opposite. I am not sure whether these numbers are correct but the rationale of the top athlete is certainly reasonable. I think it really makes sense to place your own weaknesses in the center of your training regimen, according to the motto ‘a chain is only as strong as its weakest link’. What you need to do before you can put your weaknesses in the center is to expose them first and decide which one is more basic or should be addressed first. And exactly for this purpose Gray Cook has designed a second reasonable guideline that can guide us when it comes to optimal movement: the optimal movement pyramid: Unsurprisingly, the basis of the pyramid is functional movement which can be checked with the FMS. If there is a sufficient basis of quality of movement, functional performance becomes the focus of training. Depending on sport or personal goals the base values can differ. And only after that sport specific abilities become the center of the training. I think this weighting of training progression is very reasonable. Of course you can work on all three stages at the same time but the weighting in this particular order is something I would adapt in my long term training schedule. And it seems only logical, thanks to Gray Cook, that building quantity on an insufficient level of quality not only seems illogical but also dangerous. In my opinion the best way to develop yourself is when you assess your weaknesses and then decide in which order you want to address them. With FMS and the optimal movement pyramid we have two very helpful tools, in my opinion, that everyone can implement. Conclusion: Out of a kind of summary of the three mentioned aspects the following definition of Functional Training would result: Functional Training is a concept of improvement of physical capabilities. Following the motto ‘a chain is only as strong as its weakest link’ weaknesses in the movement of the client are determined and addressed. Based on functional movement patterns functional performance aspects and sport specific abilities are trained. The exercises used for this kind of training are characterized by active, appropriate, and three-dimensional movement patterns that incorporate not only conditioning aspects but also coordinative abilities in order to challenge the body as holistic as possible. You can find the other posts of this series here: Part 1: Training movement patterns Part 2: Quality of movement comes first
- Cook, G. (2010). Movement. Functional Movement Systems: Screening, Assessment and Corrective Strategies. Aptos: On Target Publications. ISBN: 978-1-931046-72-5
- Cook, G. (2011): Der perfekte Athlet. Spitzenleistungen durch Functional Training (2.Aufl.). München: Riva Verlag. ISBN: 978-3-86883-021-7
- Orig.: Athletic Body in Balance (2003)
- Tsatsouline, P. (1999). Power to the People. Russian Strength Training Secrets
- For Every American. St.Paul: Dragon Door Publications. ISBN: 0-938045-19-9
Quality over quantity
„If a motion-sequence is executed with bad formal technique, this bad movement is saved with the motoric system. Exercise by itself does not lead to perfection; it is only perfect exercise that makes us the perfect athlete. “ (Cook, 2011, S.22).This quote makes, in my opinion, very clear a second fundamental characteristic of Functional Training: quality of movement. When I say (in the introduction) that Functional Training is not necessarily something new I am first and foremost talking about the individual exercises. Which is indeed new is the fact that people try harder to explain the frame in which appropriate movement takes place. More on this topic can be found in chapter 8 of my e-book “Beweglichkeit”. Gray Cook has developed the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), a test battery consisting of seven movement patterns that rates the qualitative execution of the fundamental movement patterns in a very simple, straightforward manner:
- 0 points = pain (consult a therapist)
- 1 point = insufficient quality (should be corrected with appropriate exercises)
- 2 points = sufficient (more or less the minimum standard)
- 3 points = optimal quality (nice to have)
„I don’t consider the aforementioned seven movement patterns components in the fundament of functional movements in sport. I see them much rather as the shapeable material that every single component is made of. These movements connect all sports because they are the basic requirements for every human movement. The biggest mistake you can see in modern sport medicine and fitness training is an too early concentration on sport specific movements. My test series is far from a law carved in stone. It is just a simple and quick method to show the most basic aspect of human performance which is the capability for free mobility “ (Cook, 2011, S.58).Additionally, and for me the most important aspect of FMS, this test exposes left-right asymmetries which can be eliminated afterwards.
„Functional Training is a form of training that establishes movement symmetry between the left and right half of the body and can improve the balance between mobility and stability within the body “ (Cook, 2011, S.72).With this test we have a tool that allows us to determine whether the testee has movement deficits that can hinder him from performing optimal movement patterns and is therefore exposed to an increased risk for injury. Of course you can argue whether the given guidelines of FMS for quality of movement is coherent for our species. However, I can say that in relation to health sport I haven’t noticed any discrepancies and this is why I apply them. An ever increasing number of coaches and therapists seem to feel the same way because they incorporate this test into their programs. You can find the other posts of this series here: Part 1: Training movement patterns Part 3: A chain is only as strong as its weakest link
- In Functional Training, you train movement patterns, following the motto: form follows function.
- In Functional Training, movement quality comes first: quality before quantity.
- Functional Training identifies weak points of the trainee and places them in the center of programming: a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Movement patterns are elemental – form follows function
“The focus on movement, not muscles, runs like a thread through this book.” (Cook, 2011, p.14)This one sentence, in my opinion, describes very well what makes up the center not only of the book but of Functional Training in general, which is species-appropriate movement patterns. Gray Cook further elaborates on this in the following quotes:
“Aim of training is not to alter the look of the body but to improve its movements. Therefore, training should focus more on movement patterns than on single muscles. For muscles will develop naturally when different movement patterns are trained, thus, giving trainees almost ‘automatically’ a look as if they would be doing bodybuilding. The focus, however, lies on movement itself; the great outer form is just a byproduct.” (Cook, 2011, p. 32) “An athlete is defined not by his or her looks but by their way of moving. Modern strength training with weights has often times more to do with bodybuilding than with athletic performance and improved movement patterns. An athlete has to develop reasonable movement patterns long before they should be concerned with improving performance.” (Cook, 2011, p. 24)I think these quotes make it very clear what Functional Training is all about and why it stands in opposition to bodybuilding. While bodybuilding places an emphasis on individual muscle groups, Functional Training places its focus on movement patterns. My theory is that people who turn to Functional Training mostly come from one of two areas: competitive sports or health sports. I think these people have understood that the increasing influences of bodybuilding in the last years haven’t benefitted their respective sport. A quote by Pavel Tsatsouline regarding this development would be: In the 1980s hardcore New York powerlifter Dr. Ken Leistner watched the explosion of bodybuilding and predicted the decline of effective strength training. He was right. Proliferation of the strength = size mentality lead to two unfortunate developments. First, athletes started equating strength training with bodybuilding. The result was ‘Hollywood muscle’—all show and no go. Although the new breed of US weightlifters were unquestionably buff, they, unlike their predecessors, could not hold a candle to the Eastern Europeans when it came to hoisting iron.
“Second, women shy away from effective strength training in fear of getting bulky. They are content being weak because they do not know that they can get stronger without developing the body of a Jesse Ventura. Ladies resort to pathetic high rep programs that do nothing to improve their muscle tone or strength. Indeed, bodybuilding is the worst thing that ever happened to strength training” (Tsatsouline, 1999, S.11)Gray Cook’s words regarding this topic are as following:
“The gym equipment industry offered us another solution. If a person couldn’t squat but still wanted to work leg muscle development, they were there to help with a leg press, a leg extension and a leg curl machine. With these machines, we can work the leg musculature without ever performing the functional patterns these muscles support.”This is a big problem because the prime movers still get exercised while the stabilizers lag behind. The stabilizers do not have to work in a natural manner in a partial pattern, during isolation exercises and on most weight machines.
“Own the movement before you do the exercise” (Cook, 2010, S.200)Nevertheless, here we are. Modern fitness equipment allows training while sitting and even slouching comfortably. This equipment accommodates pushing and pulling with the arms, and flexing and pressing with the legs. The equipment also furnishes torso flexion, extension and rotation without forcing users to balance on their feet or naturally engage the stabilizing musculature. People move muscles without the burden of controlling bodyweight, maintaining balance or managing alignment, but that is not life.” (Cook, 2010, S.74).’ I personally don’t have anything against bodybuilding as long as these training philosophies are kept separate from competitive or health sports (bodybuilding as competitive sport, of course, is an exception here). That, unfortunately, is often not the case even though that is not the fault of individual bodybuilders. I think, however, that Functional Training is the method of choice in the fields of competitive and health sports and that is why I use it for myself. I find it hard to observe older people being ‘strapped’ into one of the machines that Gray Cook mentions in the quote (leg press, leg extension, leg curl) all the while I am convinced that squat exercises, lunges, turkish get ups or push-ups would be that much more beneficial for their goals (probably maintaining their independence). Of course, it is absolutely positive that these persons gathered the drive to do strength training but, especially then, I would want to give them the most reasonable training and I don’t think that the aforementioned machines, which are certainly the most common in gyms all around the world, can offer such a training. Training while sitting is very common with most machines but not very specific. Ok, we all sit for hours every day but do we have to sit during training as well? Additionally, this destroys every coordinative characteristic that is very useful for the harmonic interplay of ‘all systems of our body’. Machines lead us through the movements and allow us to lift weights that we probably couldn’t lift without this guidance. We simply haven’t earned to lift that much weight yet but the machine allows us to. And in movement patterns that we almost never use in everyday life. Why should we train movement patterns that we never need in our daily life/sport? Functional Training starts right here and focuses on improving movement patterns relevant to everyday life and sports with training equipment that not only trains conditional but also coordinative abilities. In addition to bodyweight training you can use barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, sling trainers, sandbags, weight vests, med balls, skipping ropes, cable rows, and several more. Even though there is such a variety of training equipment, the primary focus lies on reasonable movement patterns, training equipment is secondary. Functional Training is much more than a kettlebell, sling trainer, and sandbag in combination and has nothing to do with circus acts. Find the other two articles of this series here: Part 2: in Functional Training movement quality comes first Part 3: a chain is only as strong as its weakest link
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